Idaho law could criminalize helping minors get abortions

Idaho lawmakers are considering making it illegal for an adult to help a minor procure an abortion without parental consent.

The measure would create a new crime of "abortion trafficking," barring adults from obtaining abortion pills for a minor and "recruiting, harboring, or transporting the pregnant minor." To sidestep violating a constitutional right to travel between states, the state law would make illegal only the portion of a trip to an out-of-state abortion provider that takes place in Idaho.

People convicted of breaking the law would face two to five years in prison.

The law would be the first of its kind in the U.S., where Republican-controlled states have been ramping up abortion bans and restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court ended a nationwide right to access last year. Idaho is one of 13 states that already effectively ban abortion in all stages of pregnancy. It’s also one of a handful that already have laws that could penalize those who help people of any age obtain abortions.

One of the GOP sponsors, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, told KTVB-TV in Boise this month that "we are only looking to continue to protect our children and our parental rights."

Organizations across the country that advocate for the right to abortion portray it as an unneeded effort to make legal abortion even harder to access.

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Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said the ban would create a chilling effect if it's adopted.

"That would mean people who might otherwise be really important supports would ask, ‘Can I be the supportive auntie or sister or friend in a situation where I want to be a support to this person?'" Miller said.

The measure has been passed already by the state House and is now up for consideration in the state Senate. If it passes in the GOP-controlled chamber, it would still need the approval of the governor, Republican Brad Little, to become law.

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Mack Smith, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said the bill will likely become law but that the dispute over it won’t end there.

"If it’s passed," she said, "there will absolutely be a legal battle."

A relatively small number of the abortions in the U.S. are obtained by minors. Among the 47 states that reported 2019 abortion data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than 9% people who received abortions were 15 to 19 years old. Idaho had a higher proportion than most states; about 1 in 8 people to obtain abortions there were 15 to 19.

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Advocates for access say most teens who have abortions involve their parents in the decision and that those who do not often have a good reason, such as an abusive relationship.

Kelsey Pritchard, spokesperson for the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, expects other states to consider following Idaho's approach, which she says is important to ensure that its protections for parents’ rights to be involved in abortion decisions aren’t flouted.

"That kind of proposal is definitely something that states should be looking at," she said. "Idaho’s kind of thinking ahead here."